What’s wrong with Professional Sports
Most sport contests find their roots in human recreational activities. That is why they are still referred to as “games.” Games were multi-purpose activities that provided humans with diversions they could use as simple observation, for pleasure, for participation as hobbies, for exercise, for stress relief or just for fun.
However, as with any human endeavor some people are simply better at things than others. The result is that when an athlete rises to a very select skill level which outclasses all others, that person for some reason in both modern as well as in ancient societies becomes revered, placed on a pedestal and then practically deified. Why the intellectual philosopher, the PhD college professor or the Astrophysicist is not held in such high regard is the odd paradox that societies seem to worship brawn more than they do brain.
This phenomenon however is entirely relative and only pertains to societies that can afford sports as a luxury item.
In third world countries where people are living on the edge of starvation I am sure that children still play games with sticks and rocks, but not in grand stadiums. These are also places where one will not be observing sports icons driving around in smoke windowed limousines, or trailed by paparazzi.
Just as America has for two centuries had a penchant as being a world trend setter, it has recently excelled in its ability to utterly completely corrupt the core concept of most sports.While it has always revered its professional athletes and in relative terms they have always enjoyed being in a class by themselves; in the last twenty years, corporate influences have taken sports to an ever escalating materialistic spiral.
When organized sports crossed the fine line from the level of the amateur having fun, to the paid professional doing it for a living, money and greed slowly but irrevocably have catapulted many sports into the domain of the corporate absurd.
George Steinbrenner was one of the first baseball team owners to pay players prospectively rather than retrospectively. Before he tried to buy his way to perpetual victory, baseball players were paid for the following year based on how they had performed the prior year. Now they have multi-year multi-million dollar contracts, no-trade clauses, free agent clauses, specified extra bonus pay for certain threshold achievements, and corporate sponsors. Except for the hope that a player will be self-motivated by his own ego, there is nothing to guarantee either team loyalty or even a sense of having to each and every day maximize one’s efforts.
If you don’t believe that just tune into a regular season NBA game to watch the players lollygagging around under the basket in those half-hearted shams they call “defense,” because what people really want to see are acrobatic slam dunks.
Steinbrenner’s teams validated this, because despite funding the richest total player salary package in the history of sports, he was never able to translate this financial outlay into what he hoped would be a guarantee of winning every World Series. In fact, just the opposite has occurred.
Then there are the N.Y Mets, a team often touted as baseball’s third wealthiest franchise. Yet with a few exceptions, year after year they absolutely stink and they have traded away enough good players to field several World Series teams. Despite this their devoted fans keep shelling out good money for an afternoon or an evening of being treated to agonizing mediocrity while nurturing a perpetual dimwitted hope for a repeat miracle.
As a child growing up I knew that every year the three local N.Y. City baseball teams would each have virtually the same roster and that each would have its same marquee players.
Willie Mays stayed with the Giants, Pee Wee Reese stayed in Brooklyn, Al Kaline remained with Detroit, Ted Williams was a lifetime Red Sox and Mantle, Berra and Ford stayed with the Yankees.
Now, players jump teams based on ever escalating enticing pay packages. This makes every year’s rosters change so dramatically that no one has a chance to know who the players really are much less to feel as though they actually belong to the local culture. At an amateur level in college, we now have to deal with the “One and Done” phenomenon as the black holes of professional franchisees gobble up new talent as they spit out the old.
This approach has also been tried in Medicine, but as should have been intuitively predicted ahead of time, when a physician is guaranteed a salary without associated productivity requirements, the very first thing he tries to do is to avoid seeing patients. That is simply how human nature works.
In America our three major professional team sports: Baseball, Football and Basketball all operate on the concept of prospective pay.
In the domains of Basketball and Football in particular, it also seems that the level of pay is often directly proportional to how limbic the player might be, making it inversely proportional to his level of higher cerebral intelligence.
This is particularly highlighted by some of their bizarre or criminal off-field as well as on-field or on-court behaviors. Take Dennis Rodman, Rae Carruth, Keith Hernandez or Michael Vic. Murder, rape, animal and spousal abuse hit the headlines all too frequently as being new examples of iconic behavior for children to emulate. Then there is the painful lack of remorse; exemplified by the response of another super-star player when he was questioned about some less than savory or borderline legal personal activates.
He was asked:
- So what is it? Is it ignorance or is it just apathy?
- I just don’t know. And I really don’t care.
Here are a few other good examples of limbic quotations from super-star athletes:
- They were chomping at their beers.
- Today we are going to quench the title.
- Things can get really tough at the line of skirmish.
- It was so far fletched its not even common.
- The brothers in the hood should stop ramshakling so many homes.
- The cops are too brutal when they friks the brothers.
- If you couldn’t out physical them, you just punched them in the mouth.
- I strive on instinck.
Sports announcers are no better by saturating us with such corrupted combinations of adjectives, nouns and verbs as:
- Valutility, Verticality, Physicality or Fastability
Or other inane basketball descriptors such as:
- He’s long, but not wide
- He’s wide, but not long
- Pick the Pumpkin
- Squeeze the Orange
- Bury the Rock
One of my favorite self-contradicting incidents occurred when the NBA players went out on strike. Patrick Ewing then tried to organize a charity All Star game for them in Florida so that they could still “feed their families.” Poor Patrick.
Two other major American pastime sports, Tennis and Golf however by their defined nature still operate on the principle of reward for individual performance. But even these two categories are not unsullied by corporate corrupting influences such as pandering logos, preferred seating, corporate boxes, hoarded tickets, out-priced season ticket packages and limited access for the common man.
Television stations, sponsors and corporations dish out too much subsidizing money, while ball clubs simultaneously gouge their patrons with ridiculous prices for seats, parking or a few poor quality food amenities. An average day at Fenway Park, with cheap-seat tickets will still cost a family of four close to $300 once the parking and the food is tacked on.
In 1993 the average N.Y. Yankee salary was $500,000 per man. By 2003 it was up to $2.3 million. Pretty soon the roster grossed $113 million per year. To put that into perspective, the GNP of the Marshall Islands at the same time was $115 million per year. This translated into an overhead cost of $72,000 per inning. In 2007 the Yankee organization was grossing $415 million per year while its salary base had gone up to $157 million. By 2015 the figure was $214 million at a cost of $145,000 per inning. Roger Clemmons last deal was estimated to bring him $11,000 per pitch.
Also putting this into perspective, I once took care of Cal Abrams a major league player who batted .386 over eight seasons between 1949 and 1956. One year he batted .413. He bitterly complained that his highest ever salary level was $22,000, that he retired from the game with no pension and that he had to play in charity golf events to pay his bills. His only real problem, in relative terms, was just being born too soon.
I wrote George Steinbrenner a letter in the late 1970s telling him he had ruined the baseball for good. But then again, if not him it would have just been someone else. He never wrote back.
After the second baseball player’s strike I stopped watching the sport altogether because I had difficulty sympathizing with the players chronically whining about being underpaid. I thought rather that school teachers and such might the real underpaid class.
Today I find that college sports, amateur ventures and minor league baseball are much more entertaining. While the athletes seem to put their entire hearts and souls into what they are doing; the games are still played in a style close to that originally intended. They are entertaining, have unpredictable outcomes, errors comically abound, and scores swing like a pendulum. At heart it is the oxymoron of being seriously fun.
“Playin’ a kid’s game for a King’s ransom. What could be better than that? “
(Warren Sapp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)